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FEB 03/2014

Pharmacy's expanded role in public health: an accelerating trend

Pharmacy professionals have always had a crucial role to play in supporting health and wellbeing standards in the UK, but their stature and importance could be set to grow ever more pronounced in the coming months and years.

Currently, the NHS is undergoing significant changes and reforms aimed at delivering better value for money and greater efficiency, all while ensuring the standard of service offered to patients remains as high as ever.

Pharmacies have been earmarked to make a significant contribution to this evolution, providing plenty of new opportunities and responsibilities for current pharmacy staff and prospective new recruits alike.

Pharmacy's potential contribution
At a time when the entire UK public sector is seeking to make the most of the resources available to it, the potentially significant impact that pharmacies can make on the healthcare sector has not gone unnoticed.

The government is keen to introduce a more integrated, system-wide approach to healthcare provision that takes advantage of the skills and capabilities of all NHS-affiliated services, in order to end the current over-reliance of patients on accident and emergency departments.

A recent report from the Commission into Future Models of Care - established in 2013 by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society - highlighted the fact that pharmacies can be instrumental in treating common illnesses, supporting people with long-term conditions and challenging wasteful or inefficient use of medicines.

Pharmacists can also be relied upon to provide advice and support within a community setting, thus helping patients to avoid simple problems from becoming more serious over time. This can reduce demand on GPs, out-of-hours and hospital services, while enhancing access to care for patients and freeing up capacity within the NHS.

This is particularly important at a time when the Department of Health is seeking new ways of ensuring that health problems are dealt with at the earliest possible juncture.

Expanding the profile of pharmacy
However, at present, the expertise offered by pharmacies tends to be undervalued by the public as a whole. A YouGov poll published by Pharmacy Voice earlier this month revealed that less than half of adults in the UK are aware that community pharmacists can advise on common ailments, while less than one-third are aware that they can provide guidance on healthy living.

As such, Pharmacy Voice has launched a national awareness campaign called Dispensing Health to raise awareness of the value of this untapped resource among members of the public and policymakers alike. Particular focus will be placed on the obesity prevention, smoking cessation and various vaccination services pharmacies can offer.

This will be accompanied by mounting industry calls to integrate pharmacy services more completely with other frontline NHS care providers, including GP surgeries. This includes promoting pharmacies as the first access point for patients with common ailments, as well as the extension of access to patient medical records for pharmacy professionals - a move currently being considered by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Staff will therefore be following these developments with great interest, as their outcomes could dictate the future growth of the entire pharmacy sector.

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